Abstract Theories of cell lineage in human prostatic epithelium, based on protein expression, propose that basal and luminal cells: 1) are either independently capable of self-renewal or 2) arise from stem cells expressing a full spectrum of proteins (p63, cytokeratins CK5/14, CK8/18, and glutathione-S-transferase-pi [GST-pi]) similar to cells of the embryonic urogenital sinus (UGS). Such embryonic-like stem cells are thought to give rise to mature basal cells and secretory luminal cells. By single cell cloning of an immortalized, normal human prostate-derived, non-tumorigenic RWPE-1 cell line, we isolated and characterized two epithelial cell types, WPE-stem and WPE-int. WPE-stem cells show: i) strong, sixfold greater nuclear expression of p63; ii) nearly twofold greater expression of CK14; iii) threefold less CK18, and iv) low androgen receptor (AR) expression as compared with WPE-int cells. WPE-stem cells are androgen-independent for growth and survival.
WPE-int cells express very low p63 and CK5/14, and high CK18. WPE-int cells are androgen-independent for growth and survival but are highly responsive as shown by androgen induction of AR and prostate specific antigen (PSA). Compared with WPE-int cells, WPE-stem cells are smaller and show more rapid growth. WPE-stem cells can grow in an anchorage-independent manner in agar with 4.5-fold greater cloning efficiency and as free floating “prostaspheres” in liquid medium; and express over 40-fold higher matrix metalloproteinase-2 activity. These results indicate that WPE-stem cells express several features characteristic of stem/progenitor cells present in the UGS and in adult prostatic epithelium. In contrast, WPE-int cells have an intermediate, committed phenotype on the pathway to luminal cell differentiation. We propose that in normal prostatic epithelium, cells exist at many stages in a continuum of differentiation progressing from stem cells to definitive basal and luminal cells. Establishment and characterization of clones of human prostatic epithelial cells provide novel models for determining cell lineages, the origin of prostate cancer, and for developing new strategies for tumor prevention and treatment.